CLEMENT MUDIAGA ENAJEMO (MUDI)
From a humble beginning, staying true to his craft has elevated Clement Mudiaga Enajemo, who is better known by his trade name, Mudi Africa, into the company of global citizens. Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes on his immense evidence of successes which include membership of the super exclusive clique of connoisseurs with an unapologetic passion for expensive classic cars
Long before he built the eye-catching edifice at Anthony Village area of Lagos, Clement Mudiaga Enajemo found fame through his single minded pursuit of one goal – to sit on the pinnacle of the fashion industry.
Planting that architectural masterpiece strategically at a corner of town inhabited by the upper middle class only served to draw more attention. It is hard to pass by that building without doing a double take. Not that it is painted in bright colours. If anything, grey and black should make it appear dour and unappealing, but not if you have the artistic masterstroke to create motifs and designs on the wall, cut-out a walk-way lined with shiny white stone and lush green grass that amplifies the landscaping.
Then you deliberately tease passersby by refusing to hide this spectacle behind a wall. That way, you can be sure the building will get more than a passing glance. Cars don’t speed past; pedestrians ease-off on their pace. Depending on what side of the street they are approaching from, they keep their eyes to the left or right, to ogle the Mudi Africa head office, like soldiers in obedience to their parade commandant.
Fortunately, he does not have to hire an artist. Art was the subject, in secondary school, that he always hit the top mark. If he was not a fashion designer, he could easily have made as much money and fame, perhaps as a visual artist. Apparently, his knowledge of the arts comes very handy in creating distinct fashion.
Of course, even the blind can hear people who drive or walk by comment. From the mundane to the insightful, all are intrigued by the purpose of the building. The interest assumes a different colouration when it is revealed that it is a tailor’s shop. More often than not, eyes widen in amazement. “A tailor?!”
This is where Mudi leaves his desk and comes to sit next to the reporter on the couch in his office. Grabbing his arm softly as if to ensure he was listening, he told this writer how these reactions always box him into a corner of sadness. His worry sometimes assumes a communal dimension, when he extends it beyond himself.
“It makes me think why the black man underestimates himself, so much. Does it mean the black man is not supposed to succeed or do anything good?” he asked.
That question is at the root of Mudi’s continuous quest to outdo himself. He is driven by a burning desire to prove that Africans are as equally talented and can reach the same height in any profession as members of other races.
This self-appointed burden has not been an easy task. The path to where he is today has been lined with vestiges of triumphs and failures. Every time he found himself in the valley of despondency, he is always quick to remind himself of his carefully chosen goal.
Although, Mudi has the kind of validation he needs already, he is nonetheless disturbed by the wrong impression in some quarters that he could not have made the kind of money he is perceived to have from a legitimate business. The weight of these accusations annoy him greatly.
Mudi is normally soft spoken, but the thought of people trying to smear his name brings out a speech defect that is not easily noticeable. He stuttered as he spoke. “I have heard all sorts of things. They say I launder money for politicians. Others say I am into drugs. I have even heard that I am the gay partner of some affluent men. Laughable as these insinuations are, I am pained. They don’t know the amount of hard work that I have put into this business these past 23 years. That said, I must acknowledge that I am not the most hard working person in the industry. I have enjoyed God’s grace and patronage from people who value my creative talent.”
The God-factor in his affairs sounds like fable. He chose the example of how he acquired his office at Anthony. “I got the hint that the house was up for sale from a lady who supplies fabrics to me. She lived there. She linked me up with the agent in-charge of the house, and the day I met him and was told the asking price, I knew all the monies in my account could not buy it. However, I made a non-refundable commitment.
“I told him I was serious and requested that he gave me the right of first refusal before talking to somebody else. He agreed. I cleared all the monies I had in my various accounts, sold one of my flats at Dolphin Estate in Ikoyi, Lagos, sold one of my plots of land in Warri and although the money was not enough, it had grossed over 60 per cent. I approached GT Bank and they gave me the rest of the money to buy the house. That is how this house came to be.
“We don’t have faith in ourselves. There are 774 local government chairmen in Nigeria. Many of them wear clothes made by Nigerian designers. Suppose you have 20 members in the state houses of assembly who patronise Nigerian designers. Multiply that by 36 states. Add members of the National Assembly, commissioners, governors, actors, businessmen and the like. The market is big. There is so much money to be made. I don’t know why we think small. The richest black man is a Nigerian. The richest black woman is a Nigerian. So why don’t we believe in ourselves?”
Coming down to a communal level, Mudi posits that trying to make a good impression with one’s dress is native to his Warri roots. He reeled out a number of names who always appear spick and span, and incidentally have a nativity tied to Warri: Chris Okotie, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Ali Baba, Obaro Ibru, Tex Egbedi, Eunice Efoli, Eyimofe Atake and Stan Mukoro. “In Ughelli and Warri, we have that upbringing. We dress well without putting it in your face”, he said.
The Mudi Africa corporate headquarters has as much a marvelous exterior as it presents an enchanting interior. A one-story affair, you are welcome by a smart looking security man in white uniform and ankle-length boot. A flight of stairs leads to the first floor, which houses the reception, the showroom and Mudi’s office. The ground floor is the engine room where the cutting, ironing and sewing takes place. For many guests, their visit is limited to the first floor.
The office floor is the masterpiece that further announces Mudi’s ingenuity. Every piece of adornment is a work of art. From the seats, to the mirror and the wall clock, all are shaped to attract and retain attention. A grand piano sits in the corner. Resting next to it is an acoustic guitar; both are bathed in olive green colours.
Mudi explained that the reception area is sometimes converted to a lounge when his high profile guest and brand ambassadors visit. The walls are alive with surreal paintings. As you approach his office, the riveting image of a pot filled with flowers is creatively buried in the wall. The showroom is where Mudi was most tested to show his artistic trait.
It is there in the way he displays complimentary cards that identify his trade through the years. It is there in the relic of his first sewing machine. It is there in the type of hangers that showcase the clothes. All of these combine with the mellow lighting and more motifs on the wall to fire the visitor’s imagination and play on the senses.
By now, you should know that Mudi doesn’t come cheap. His clients understandably occupy the top echelon of society and they cut across all walks of life. Due to the diligence and excellence with which he approaches his work, Mudi keeps the company of global citizens like presidents, business leaders and superstars in the entertainment industry and sports.
Mudi has inspired a lot of fashion designers to add value to their work environment. A recent documentary on him on a global television network celebrated him as one with the most beautiful, purpose built fashion house in Africa. But he is not at all shy to show the crowded house in Ketu where it all began in his dingy one room. Today, he flies around the world and has become an ambassador of sorts for Brand Nigeria, gaining a foothold in business in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.
Mudi may be better known for his extraordinary success in fashion, but he has also found his way into the super exclusive clique of connoisseurs with an unapologetic passion for expensive classic cars. When he wants to make an impression in the right circle, he cruises around in a 1957 Mercedes Benz or a 1971 Peugeot 504.
Enveloped in this cloud of immense evidence of successes, Mudi has few regrets, chief of which is that he doesn’t seem to be getting the desired working relationship from his home state – Delta.
“Former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, unveiled this building. I felt honoured that he would accept my invitation to attend and perform that ceremony in person. A few days after, I was pleasantly surprised when the chairman of Kosofe Council called to tell me of a decision to name the adjoining street after me.
“I have a dream that is bigger than me. I have been trying to enter a working relationship with the Delta State government to establish a fashion academy. It is an institute that can bring about a revolution, so I don’t understand why my proposal keeps hitting a brick wall,” he intoned.